Small Catalogs Forum: Filling a “Puzzling” Niche

In the early 1990s, Mary Logeland, a human resources executive, and her husband, a CPA, were looking for a new business opportunity. Little did they know that a visit to her uncle’s cabin in northern Minnesota would lead them to new careers, as the owners of the Rainy Lake Puzzles catalog.

It was at the cabin that the couple became familiar with — and intrigued by — the intricate wooden jigsaw puzzles popular in America during the 1920s and ’30s. Upon their return, the Logelands started buying their own puzzles from a company that advertised in The New Yorker. They then learned to make the puzzles at home with cherry wood and a scroll saw. “It is a very involved process in which we can cut only 30 pieces an hour,” Mary Logeland says, “and we must change the scroll-saw blade every 8-10 pieces to maintain the quality of the interlock and the image on the face of the puzzle.” Once they became adept at the craft, the Logelands decided to leave their corporate jobs and make a go of selling their own puzzles.

To start, they hired a market research firm — which they paid with custom-made puzzles — to conduct focus groups to select images for puzzles. From this, the Rainy Lake Puzzles catalog of wooden jigsaw puzzles featuring reprints of famous paintings, holiday motifs, and custom designs was born.

To build up a mailing list, the Logelands spoke to a puzzle historian who directed them to conferences sponsored by game associations, where they were able to showcase their products and sign up prospects. They prospected for additional buyers through lists of country clubs and donors to local theater groups — to target consumers likely to have higher discretionary income — but they never rented names from a list agency or paid for prospects.

The first mailing went out in fall 1992 to about 5,000 people. But during the past nine years, the list has actually become about 20% smaller; all told, Rainy Lake Puzzles mails about 4,000 books each year. “At first we were mailing to some specific buyers, but mostly to prospects who fit our target demographic of men and women over 50 with above-average incomes,” Logeland says. Now the house file is approximately 3,500 people, 60% of whom are repeat buyers. The Minneapolis-based company attracts customers primarily from the East Coast because “our two biggest competitors, Stave and Elm Puzzles, are located there and helped establish a loyal following in this area,” Logeland says.

The Logelands do everything themselves, from catalog creative and production to answering the phones and fulfilling orders. They stock only a handful of products, since most of the puzzles are made to order. But if you plan to order a personalized puzzle with a distinctive silhouette and unusually shaped pieces, you’d better do so well in advance: Such made-to-order puzzles can take four or five weeks to create. Clearly, these aren’t the flimsy cardboard jigsaws sold in bargain bins at the local supermarket.

Annual catalog sales: less than $1 million

Annual circulation: approximately 4,000


Based in: Minneapolis

Founded: 1991

Dimensions: 8″ × 6″

Number of pages: 22

Number of editions a year: one

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